Interlocal Cooperation in Fire Services
This page provides an overview of interlocal cooperation for fire services for local governments in Washington State, including interlocal agreements, joint operations, and fire district annexations, along with relevant statutes and sample documents.
It is part of MRSC's series on Interlocal Cooperation.
Interlocal cooperation among Washington's cities, towns, and fire districts takes many forms. There may be joint operating agreements, sometimes referred to as functional consolidations or mergers, where several agencies form a joint operating agency with a separate governing board through interlocal contracts; or a joint operating agreement where two jurisdictions may jointly provide fire services; or, more simply, an interlocal service contract where one jurisdiction may provide fire services to another. A single city may contract with a fire district, another city, or it may annex to a fire district. MRSC includes a list of fire district mergers, city annexations, districts and cities that are jointly operating, and that are known to be contracting for services on fire districts that are jointly operating a department on our Local Government Fire Protection Service Providers webpage.
NFPA Code 1201 Organizational Structure of the Fire Department Section 3-2.1 addresses intergovernmental relationships. It states that "State statutes, municipal charters, and the charters of townships, fire districts, or counties shall document the legal authority for operation of the fire department. The fire department shall operate within and comply with the existing laws respecting its areas of jurisdiction and responsibilities in all instances." For Washington the principal authority resides in Ch. 39.34 RCW. Other statutes relate to annexation and mergers of fire districts.
- Ch 39.34 RCW – Interlocal Cooperation Act
- Title 52 RCW – Fire Protection Districts. Includes annexation of fire districts, annexation of cities and towns to fire districts, and merger of fire districts
Only a few cities contract with other cities for fire protection services. Most such service arrangements involve contracts between cities and fire protection districts for fire protection, EMS, and related services. Below are a few selected examples.
Cities Providing Fire Protection Services to Other Cities
- Bellevue/Clyde Hill Fire Services Agreement (2017) – Bellevue continues providing fire protection/EMS to Clyde Hill for 10 years; city has similar agreements with several other nearby cities and a fire district
- Camas/Washougal Fire Services Agreement (2013) – Camas provides fire, EMS, and ALS transport services to Washougal for 10 years, with consolidated department renamed "Camas-Washougal Fire Department." Also includes prior trial agreement and cost allocation example.
- Tacoma/Fircrest Agreement for consolidation of fire protection and emergency services in which Tacoma provides services to the city of Fircrest for a period of 10 years; renewable in 10-year increments authorized by Tacoma Ordinance No. 25744 (1995)
Cities Providing Fire Protection Services to Fire Districts
- Bothell/Snohomish County Fire District No. 10:
- Fire Services Agreement (2009) – City provides fire protection/EMS for fire district, with establishment of a joint board to serve in an advisory role
- Fire Services Transition Agreement (2009) – Provides for transition of fire protection/EMS from fire district to city in the event the city annexes all or a portion of the fire district's territory
- Kettle Falls/Stevens County Fire District No. 6 Fire Services Agreement (2004) – City provides fire protection to fire district for four years
- Redmond/King County Fire District No. 34 Fire Services Agreement (2016) – City provides fire protection/EMS for fire district for 6 years
Fire Districts Providing Fire Protection Services to Cities
- Battle Ground/Clark County Fire District No. 3 Fire Services Agreement (2016) – Fire district provides service to city; city maintains ownership of fire station and two engines
- Pe Ell and Lewis County Fire Protection District No. 11 Fire Services Agreement (2004) – Fire Protection District to be sole provider of protection services to the town; no termination date, provides for annual review
- Black Diamond and King County Fire Protection District No.44 Agreement (2006) – for fire protection and related services.
- Shelton and Mason County Fire District No. 5 Agreement (2008) – to provide EMS and fire protection services; and 2010 amendment following a failed annexation attempt.
Fire District Agreements Under RCW 52.30.020
RCW 52.30.020 requires local governments with property located within or adjacent to a fire protection district to contract with the district for fire protection services on that property, unless the local agency already provides fire protection directly or through a contract with a different agency. (School districts have a separate provision.)
This requirement derives from the fact that fire protection districts are supported by property taxes, but public agencies are exempt from paying property taxes. A contract is required even for cities that have annexed into a fire district.
- Cowlitz County/Cowlitz County Fire Districts 2 and 6 Solid Waste Fire Services Agreement (2014) – Two fire districts provide service to county solid waste facility located adjacent to District 6; includes cost of service formula
- Fife/Pierce County Fire District No. 10 Fire Services Agreement (2013) – City is annexed to fire protection district, pays set amount plus annual increase of 1%. Includes adopting resolution.
- North Beach Water District/Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Fire Services Agreement (2017) – Fire district provides service to water district; includes adopting resolution
- Olympia/Lacey Fire District No. 3 Fire Services Agreement (2018) – Covers several specific properties; city receives credit during first year for previous use of city ladder truck by fire district
- Snohomish County/Snohomish County Fire District No. 7 Fairground Fire Services Agreement (2018) – Covers Evergreen State Fairgrounds and other county properties within district boundaries, with annual adjustments tied to CPI-U rate
Cities/Fire Districts Providing Service to Other Government Agencies
- Cheney/Eastern Washington University Interlocal Cooperative Fire Protection Agreement (2017)
- Omak/Okanogan County Fire District No. 3 Tribal Casino Fire Protection Agreement (2015) – City and fire district provide service to Colville Tribal Gaming property in exchange for an annual payment equivalent to the amount of property taxes that would be assessed on a facility of equivalent value.
- Pierce County Fire District No. 14/Puyallup Tribe Fire/EMS Agreement (2017) – Fire district provides fire protection/EMS on tribal property
A city or town with a population of 300,000 or less and located "within reasonable proximity" of a fire district may annex to the district (RCW 52.04.061), and many cities/towns have taken this approach. "Reasonable proximity" means "geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively."
If the annexation is approved by voters, the annual tax levy imposed by the fire protection district then applies within the corporate limits of the city.
Annexation is initiated by the city/town council adopting an ordinance stating an intent to join the fire protection district. The ordinance is then forwarded to the board of fire commissioners of the fire district. Following approval by the district, the jurisdictions must notify the county commission/council and the boundary review board (only for jurisdictions located within counties that have a boundary review board).
Once these steps have been completed, a special election is held in the city and the fire protection district on the issue. If a majority of the voters in the city and a majority of the voters in the district are in favor of the annexation, then the city is annexed to the fire protection district.
Following annexation, the city must still contract with the district to provide fire protection services for city-owned properties and facilities; see earlier discussion of fire service contracts under RCW 52.30.020.
See a list of cities annexed to fire districts on MRSC page Local Government Fire Protection Service Providers.
Below are a few sample resolutions, ordinances and agreements that have been used in the implementation of city and fire district annexations.
- King County Fire District No. 28 Resolution No. 2016-008 (2016) – Submitting a proposed name change ("Enumclaw Fire Department") to the county, following annexation of the city several years earlier.
- Kittitas/Kittitas County Fire District No. 2:
- Kittitas Ordinance No. 17-013 (2017) – Declaring city's intent to be annexed and requesting a special election
- Kittitas County Fire District No. 2 Resolution No. 17-2010 (2017) – Concurring with annexation and requesting a special election
- Lacey/Thurston County Fire District No. 3 Boundary Review Board Notice of Intention for Fire District Annexation (2009)
- Milton/East Pierce Fire & Rescue:
- Wenatchee/Chelan County Fire District No. 1:
- Wenatchee Ordinance No. 2015-01 (2015) – Initiating annexation into fire district
- Chelan County Fire District No. 1 Resolution No. 2015-001 – Concurring with the annexation
- Pre-Annexation Agreement (2015) – Transition of fire/EMS responsibilities following voter approval of annexation
- Fire Marshal Interlocal Agreement (2015) – Designating which responsibilities the city fire marshal will retain and which the fire district will provide following annexation
A fire protection district may merge into another fire protection district "located within reasonable proximity" under chapter 52.06 RCW. "Reasonable proximity" means geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively (RCW 52.06.010). (Prior to 2017-2018, merging districts had to be adjacent to each other.)
The district desiring to merge with another district is called the "merging district." The district into which the merger is to be made is called the "merger district." Once the merger is complete, the resulting (combined) district is called the "merged district."
The commissioners from the merging district must submit a merger petition to the merger district. They may file the petition on their own, or the petition may be filed by citizens if it is signed by at least 10% of the registered voters in the merging district who voted in the last general municipal election. The petition must state the reasons for the merger, state the terms and conditions under which the merger is proposed, and request the merger.
Such action is subject to potential boundary board review if the merging district is located within a county that has a boundary review board. The merger also must be approved by a simple majority of voters in the merging district. However, no election is required if the petition is signed by at least 60% of the qualified electors in the merging district (RCW 52.06.060).
If the merger is approved, both districts must adopt concurrent resolutions declaring the districts merged. All property and funds belonging to the merging district are transferred to the merged district, and the merging district is dissolved without any further proceedings.
The board of the merged district initially consists of all fire commissioners from both districts. The number is gradually reduced through attrition to three or five commissioners (depending on whether the merged district will ultimately have a three-member or five-member board) over the next three general election cycles, as described in RCW 52.06.085.
A fire district may also merge a portion of the district into another fire district within reasonable proximity, if the area can be better served by the merger district (RCW 52.06.090). A partial merger requires a petition to be signed by a majority of the commissioners of the merging district, or by at least 15% of the qualified electors within the area to be merged.
If the petition is then approved by the merger district, an election must be called in the area to be merged, requiring simple majority approval. However, if the petition is approved by the commissioners and signed by at least 60% of the qualified electors in the area to be merged, no election is necessary, at which point the merger district must adopt a resolution declaring the partial merger complete (RCW 52.06.100).
Below are some sample documents relating to one partial and one full fire district merger.
- Clark County Fire District No. 10 Resolution No. 0724201401 (2014) – Declaring a portion of Fire District 13 to be merged into Fire District 10 without requiring an election; also includes resolution from District 13 accepting petitions and consenting to merger
- Thurston County Fire Districts Nos. 7 and 8 – Merger contingent upon approval of a levy lid lift in the merging district; all documents are from 2014:
- Emergency Services Integration Plan
- Resolution No. 14-03 – Accepting and supporting the petition for merger; includes original petition
- Boundary Review Board Notice of Intention
- Resolution No. 2014-07-08-01 – Submitting merger to voters; also includes separate resolution submitting a levy lid lift to voters as a condition for the merger
Where local governments operate fire services within proximity to one another, joint operating agreements can often provide opportunities for achieving greater administrative and operational efficiencies in delivering fire services. Below are some examples of joint operating agreements between fire districts and cities that demonstrate this concept.
- Centralia/Lewis County Fire District 12 Agreement for Joint Undertaking (2003) – Creates a six member joint board
- Eastside Fire and Rescue Interlocal Agreement (2015-2021) – Between King County Fire Protection District No. 10, Fire District 38, and the cities of Issaquah, North Bend and Sammamish
- Port Angeles /Clallam County Fire District No. 2 Interlocal Agreement (2007) – For functional consolidation of volunteer firefighter programs by and between Clallam Fire District No. 2 and Port Angeles
- Snohomish County Fire District No. 1
- East Jefferson Fire and Rescue/Port Townsend Interlocal Agreement (2006) – For the joint operation and management of fire services
Two or more fire protection jurisdictions – defined as fire districts, regional fire protection service authorities, cities, towns, port districts, municipal airports, or Indian tribes – may join together to create a regional fire protection service authority under chapter 52.26 RCW. A regional fire authority is a special purpose district and independent taxing authority, and voters must approve its formation.
The participating fire protection jurisdictions must be located within reasonable proximity, defined as "geographical areas near enough to each other so that governance, management, and services can be delivered effectively."
For more information and examples, see our page Regional Fire Protection Service Authorities.
Below is an example of a job description and interlocal agreement:
- Woodinville Fire & Rescue/Duvall Fire Interlocal Agreement for Information Systems Manager (2017) – Provides agreement for two fire districts to share one information systems manager. Initial contract envisioned 26 hours per week for one district and 14 hours for the other, but contract amendment (included) slightly adjusted the allocation.